Saturday, September 3, 2011

Damn, still looking good!?

Wow! Doom is finally legalized in Germany! National Day! I guess most German gamers had their illegal copy on 5 floppy disks anyway, but those bans on violent games... sigh. You know what I think about games & violence:
Forbidding violent games?

But about Doom. If you tell the new generation of gamers about "id Software", then don't expect ringing alarm bells, twinkling enjoyed eyes, or hours of nostalgic talk. At its best, they might remember something about “Doom III”. In my opinion a very good game, but in the shadows(literally) of more innovative games of that time, such as Halflife2 and Farcry. Doom3 was well, 20 hours of shitting your pants & brainless shooting in darkness. Good enough for me, but not a shocking new formula.

New cars versus Grandpa’s unbreakable steam-tractor
Maybe they also noticed all the fuzz about that game "Duke Nukem Forever", which made the old boys nervous the last 15 years, but turned out to be a piece of . Conclusion of the new generation: we old bastards got stuck in history with Duke and Boom, or whatever that game was called. No doubt it was fun back then, but it’s time to move on. We old bastards on the other hand keep telling that games are shit these days. Like grandpa claiming his old steam-tractor is still superior to those modern machines equipped with electronics that nobody understands.

Nostalgia is a strong thing. Mark my words, you new generation wannabe-gamers (2000..anno now) will be complaining in 10 years as well. Telling everyone Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was way better than all those too-easy-4-hour-crap-virtual-3D-iMotion games we may meet in the future. As usual, everything was better in the good old days. Ask Alexander The Great, and he will confirm.

Nintendo & Wii tries to tickle the Nostalgia, using a different marketing strategy: Good old fun for the whole family (including labrador)... Too bad that they can't(don't want) get rid of their kiddy status. Asides from Nintendo's own series, most of the Wii games are weak excuses to wrap shitty stuff without immersion in a game-package, relying on the overrated Nunchuck. Simple, uncomplicated fun? Maybe, but not enough to hook this old gamer.

OT, Sergi made a sink... Don't know what to say more about sinks, but we need them.

Less serious, more fun
Now, who is right? Is nostalgia blinding us, or do we really have a point when complaining? All right, some nuance first. Doom was made in an era where good-looking quality games were scarce. Hence, it was one of the first "3D" games! Duke was the first game with boobs, humor and cities to explore instead of boring stone corridors. So titles like these would quickly rise above the average, had little to no competition, and got declared holy by the game-popes.

Yet, I dare to say games like Super Mario, Doom(1 / 2) or Duke Nukem still have a better thought-through design than many modern games. Whereas new games are taking themselves (too) serious with photo-realistic graphics and dramatic, cinematic gameplay, old games were more focusing on simple, yet challenging and very addictive mechanics. I finished "Double Dragon (SNES)" with my little brother about 5 million times, while I hardly finish new games these days anymore. At some point, I just lose interest. Even with quality titles such as GTA or Metal Gear Solid. Of course, that also has to do with my age, busy schedule, and being spoiled with too many good games last 18 years already. Chocolate cake doesn’t taste that special anymore after eating it six thousand times.

But when I'm in for a quick game, I usually start Doom or Red Alert, rather than newer titles. How come? Old rusty habits, or are these games really more fun? Both, I think. My major problems with nowadays games:

- It takes a while to get in the mood (complex story, slow build-up, learning all controls, ...). Not good if you don't have many hours of free time.
- But once used to it, these games are often (way) too easy.
- Not worth a second run. Once finished, they dissapear in the (virtual) cabinet.

Point 3 is typical for modern games. Their graphics, advanced scenery, teasers, and immersion usually keep you interested till the end. But the core-elements such as blasting foes or jumping platforms just isn't that much fun. Take GTA for example. Everyone loves the dialogs and exploring the city. But playing it all over again... Racing isn't that much of a challenge, neither are the simple shoot-outs where the computers does 95% of the aiming and cover for you. So what's left, are the dialogs and scenes you have already seen.

A game like Doom on the other hand brings you straight down to the action, 15 seconds after double-clicking \doom.exe. After 50 runs the AI and level-structure isn't really surprising either of course, but you can increase the difficulty to insane heights, and more important, firing the double barreled shotgun at an imp from nearby keeps satisfying, forever. These games are simple, yet brilliant and diverse at the same time.

A simple explanation for their good design might be the available time they got to tweak the levels and weapons. Now lot’s and lot’s of time is spend on making the maps and objects look good in the first place. High poly characters, huge libraries of textures, polishing the lighting, and so on. Making content for older games was simpler, so there was more time to test the maps. Where to put ammo, when to give a health bonus, where to place baddies. And if it sucked, maps or monsters were easy to scrap and replace.

More sinks! Btw, making this model + normalMap + specularMap takes more time than making a low-res sprite of a sink or toilet. Therefore it's harder to replace content, in case it doesn't really fit in the game.
Duke Legacy
I guess this is where it went wrong with the new Duke Nukem Forever… Too much struggle on making the content, too little testing, too much sweat/ego to scrap and redo things… As an old rusty gamer, I was a bit sad about the new Duke not being “Hail to the King baby”. DNF isn’t a bad game, and neither did I expect it to live up the hype. But it didn’t bring back old well-oiled shooter fun, and it certainly did not convince the new gamer generation. A mediocre product, nowhere near the old Duke achievement in 1996.

I already had sort of a bad feeling about it when seeing the few demo movies that were released throughout the years. Duke was struck by an identity crisis. Should he try to be an innovative, fresh game with modern elements such as sniping, driving vehicles and easy-gameplay (plenty of auto-saves, linear levels, lot's of hints, not too much enemies). Or should he stay with his core-business: shooting everything that moves & saving babes up tempo?

I wasn't there at the development, but it seems the creators got stuck somewhere between. Resulting in a game that is neither an oldskool-hardcore shooter, and neither a refreshing new game with superb graphics. It's frustrating difficult at some points, and too easy at the same time. It’s not long, nor short. It's a lot of firepower, but only carrying 2 guns and no mighty-boot at the same time. It's Duke humor but being-a-pussy-getting-killed-by-just-a-few-bullets at the same time. The enemies don't overwhelm you by intelligence, neither with big swarms as they did in the past. The pace was not slow & stealth, neither on steriods. The levels try to look good, but forgot the secrets, humor, freedom and fun that make you want to get the max out of them.

Vehicles or moving stuff doesn't surprise anyone anymore. But back then, this "metro" was a (also technological) highlight!

As said, it's not a bad game. But the new generation that compares it to Crysis or Deus-Ex will be disappointed by the many shortcomings; the game excels in nothing, and Duke’s silly poop-jokes won’t fix that either. Then, we older games get disappointed by the lack of challenge, not killing 100 pigs per minute, and boring level design. Yes, it surprised me that most of the scenes you have seen in 10-year old demo-movies, such as the casino, hoover dam, and cowboy stuff are still in the game. You can't tell me that it took fourteen years to finish those (few) levels... The problem was likely something else: it missed the simple yet addictive and aggressive gameplay that made the 1996 release so brilliant.

I think 3D Realms realized this very well in a pretty early stage. The fun isn't just there when firing a rocket at a bunch of aliens flying with a jetpack. But instead of having Duke-balls of steel and starting over from scratch, they grasped with the ideas & content they made so far, and tried to improve what they got. But probably this was a mission-impossible. Having spend so much blood, sweat and tears in their product, 3D Realms probably didn't want to scrap and disappoint their fans. But at the same time, they might have been too ashamed/unsure to release the game in its current shape. That's where 2K-Games interfered, by putting Gearbox on the Duke. Not to make it a better game, but just to make it sellable, finally. I understand their choice, yet it's a pity to witness the downfall of our old hero.

Roots, bloody roots
I’m just speculating of course, but it seems they took a few fundamental wrong decisions. Once they got behind schedule, being surpassed by better engines and other innovative games, they probably had to adjust their selling points as well. Making a copy of ’96 Duke 3D with improved graphics wouldn’t be enough. At least, not according to publishers that want to sell the game to a wide audience. Times of nonstop brainless shooting, 30 + 2 secret levels, and hard difficulty settings were over. Who to please? The old loyal fans, or the new generation of gamers? Probably they tried to please both, and that’s exactly what made the game fail I think.

In my humble opinion, Duke should have been more like its predecessor. That sounds lazy, but trying to be new and better is near to impossible these days, especially in the shooter genre. Duke wasn't going to steal the hearts of new gamers anyway, there are simply too much players out there now. (Virtual) heroes are just as easily forgotten as they rise these days. So why not going back to the roots, making a decent shooter game. Fast, aggressive humorous action, heavy weapons, whole armies of foes to shoot. A big bunch of fun-levels, not bound to realistic rules or a complex story. And a difficulty setting to separate the men from the boys.

For 2011 standards, that would actually make quite an original game. Hell, I dare to say it would even be fun with 2.5D (but High Quality) sprite graphics. Damn, that would look good. Or least original. Maybe the newer gamers wouldn't be interested... then again, Retro 2D Mario sells again, and I'm pretty sure there are plenty of old grumpy guys that haven't played a good old shooter since Halflife1, in their experience.

Little teaser for Demo2...

Ok professor, how about Tower22?
What design rules would Tower22 follow? Well, neither of them. Horror games are a complete different genre. The target is to give you just a single-ride, with complex & difficult gameplay. But a ride you will never forget because it was so goddamn strange/weird/unique/scary. Like Silent Hill or the older Resident Evil games did. However... I would love to make a 2.5D Duke Nukem, Command & Conquer, or beat 'm up like Double Dragon!

Talking about games, do you have a top10 (old or new, doesn't matter)? In random order:

0- Super Metroid (SNES)
1- Crusader: No Remorse (PC)
2- Doom2 (PC)
3- Halflife (PC)
4- Goldeneye (N64)
5- Zelda (SNES, N64, Majora's mask in particular)
6- Resident Evil Remake (GC)
7- C&C: Red Alert (PC)
8- GTA: San Andreas (PS2)
9- Red Dead Redemption (PS3, hey, that's a new game!)
10- Super Mario (Bros 3, World, 64... and I likes the Wii ones as well)

My top 10... counting from 0 ;)

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